New Years Day Bowl Recap

January 1, 2011

I wanted to do an NFL preview for a Sunday morning column, but I picked the wrong time to start this blog. Week 17 is just too much of a crapshoot; I made it about four games into my predictions before I got too annoyed and gave up on having a clue. I’d recap how much it sucks to make picks in Week 17, but Bill Simmons already did that, so I’ll let you go read his column if you want. Instead, I’ll go with a New Years Day bowl recap where I can gloat/express my frustration with Michigan State.

I nailed three of the four early games and the Rose Bowl on the head. Texas Tech beat 45-38 and didn’t cover the 8 point spread against Northwestern. Florida used a late TAINT against Penn State to win 36-24 in a game that played out as close as I thought it would. And Mississippi State dominated Michigan 52-14. I apparently gave the Wolverines even more credit than they deserved in picking the Bulldogs to win 31-10. In the late game, I predicted that TCU would contain Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing offense in a close win. They did just that in a 21-19 victory.

So far, so boring. I like predicting how games play out, but it’s surprisingly melodramatic. I’m a perfectionist, so I tend to dwell on the games that I missed. And of course, a day after I write an article arguing that motivation means more than I thought in bowl games, Alabama comes out and DOMINATES Michigan State in a 49-7 victory (and yes, all CAPS were necessary). Alabama was one of the eight teams I highlighted that were favored by more than a touchdown but may not, for various reasons, be motivated to play in their bowl game. I thought Alabama would come out flat – they were ranked #1 for the first half of the season before losing and were playing for a BCS bid as late as the second half of the last game of the season. On the other hand, I figured that Michigan State would play like they had something to prove after being doubted throughout the year.

Oh boy. I’m not even quite sure where to start with this one. Surprisingly, I think Michigan State did come out playing like they had something to prove. They weren’t bad by any means, but Alabama was just that much better than them. Not only did Alabama come out motivated, they may have played their best all-around game of the year. If I were a Crimson Tide fan, I’d actually be upset after this game – if they played like this for the entire season, they absolutely would have gone undefeated and played in the national championship game for the second straight year. How does Saban get his guys up for the Capital One Bowl but come out flat against South Carolina and LSU? It’s beyond me, but it just goes to show how much of a crapshoot these games are.

We’ve now played seven games between an unmotivated TD-plus favorite and a motivated underdog. Keeping with the trend I outlined earlier, the favorite has now either covered the huge spread (three times) or lost straight up (four times). As I type, Oklahoma is beating Connecticut 34-10, so it’s probably safe to chalk up a 4-4 record for the unmotivated favorites. If UCONN somehow comes back, it’s probably worthy of its own post, so we’ll deal with that then.

So where does that leave us with my unmotivated team theory? I’m sticking with it. If anything, the Alabama/Michigan State game showed that picking these games really are a crapshoot. In the future, I’ll pick Alabama – the far more talented team – for a low amount. No more being a hero: that Michigan State picked looked pretty stupid by the time I even flipped the game on at 12:15, 15 minutes after kickoff.

New Years Day Bowl Previews

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year’s Day to everyone! A fairly exciting slate of games (finally!) highlighted by the TCU/Wisconsin Rose Bowl matchup later this afternoon. Here are my predictions:

Ticket City Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern

My picks: Northwestern +8, Over 62, Texas Tech 21 confidence points

In the day’s first game, 7-5 Northwestern, missing their starting quarterback Dan Persa, takes on 7-5 Texas Tech, which underachieved all year. No wonder the game ended up on ESPNU. Texas Tech is a heavy favorite in this game, almost entirely because the Wildcats’ Persa is out, but I’m not buying into that for two reasons: 1. backup freshman QB Evan Watkins isn’t terrible; and 2. the Big 12 has really turned their bowl season into a fiasco. Watkins is no Persa, but he’s just not bad enough to make two otherwise evenly matched teams that different. Big 12 teams are now 1-4 in bowl games – Oklahoma State is the only team that has bothered to show up. I’ll take Texas Tech to win, but just barely: TTU 38-35.

Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

My picks: Michigan State +9, Michigan State 1 confidence point

In keeping with my new motivation theory, I’ll stick with Michigan State here. I’m just not all that impressed with this Alabama team – only 5-3 against bowl teams, and of the top four teams they faced (Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn), they only beat Arkansas. Plus, I can’t imagine how Alabama gets up for this game after being ranked #1 for the first six weeks of the season and blowing a 24-point lead against Auburn in the last game of the season to cost them a berth in the Sugar Bowl. And lest we forget what happened last time Alabama came into a bowl game unmotivated as a heavy favorite – Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and never looked back in pulling the biggest upset so far by a non-BCS team in a BCS game.

Meanwhile, I think the Spartans are underrated. Style points are certainly not their forte, but they get the job done: 6-1 against bowl teams this season. With the exception of Utah, no team that has been in the top ten this year has been doubted as much as the Spartans. I think they play with something to prove and pull the upset. Sparty 21-17.

Capital One Bowl: Florida vs. Penn State

My picks: Florida 25 confidence points

This would have been a fantastic matchup ten years ago. Now we have powerhouse Florida on a down year and Penn State, which seems to make a New Years Day Bowl every year despite having at least three losses.* My first instinct was that Florida would dominate in Urban Meyer’s last game. Upon further reflection, I’m not so sure. It feels to me like he’s sort of abandoning them.** I think the Gators come out motivated, but not as much as people think. That and the Gators’ offense shouldn’t be favored by seven over anybody. I think Florida slips by a not-very-good PSU team 21-17.

* Nittany Lion fans have to have a weird relationship with Joe Paterno. Having a coach with that reputation is both good and bad. Bad because he clearly can’t perform as well as he used to, and the Nittany Lions haven’t been a legitimate national title contender for years. Good because, with this recognition, no matter how rough of a season PSU has, they get a better bowl game simply because of JoePa’s name recognition. Weird situation; of course no PSU fan can really utter these words, lest God strike them down.

** Anyone else hoping that Urban Meyer becomes the Brett Favre of coaching retirements? I sure hope a couple USC players fly to Gainesville at some point next season begging Meyer to come out of retirement and save them from Lane Kiffin.

Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Michigan

My picks: MSU -4, MSU 31

Michigan is the most overrated team in college football this year. How do I know this? They are 0-8 against the spread in their last eight games. That’s staggering. Denard Robinson has two good games to start the season that the public seems to remember and it turns into an early Christmas present for degenerate gamblers everywhere. Mississippi State finished 8-4, but their four losses were to top ten teams Auburn (by three), LSU, Arkansas (in two overtimes), and Alabama. The fact that the Bulldogs are way better than people think and Michigan is way worse makes this an easy play.  MSU wins 31-10.

Rose Bowl: TCU vs. Wisconsin

My pick: TCU 16 confidence points

The most intriguing game of New Year’s Day by far. No one knows what’s going to happen this game. That doesn’t stop everyone from having an opinion on it. Afterwards, half of the people will get to say “I told you so” while the other half will have to shrug and agree. But that’s going to be 20/20 hindsight – everyone is just guessing. I could make arguments for either side:

Why TCU will win: unlike other non-BCS teams, this team is really fast; they are a non-BCS team in conference name only; Andy Dalton is a big-game quarterback and would have been invited to the Heisman ceremony if Kellen Moore didn’t exist; Wisconsin hasn’t faced a defense this good yet

Why Wisconsin will win: TCU hasn’t seen anything like the speed and raw power of the Badgers’ offensive line and rushing attack; the Badgers are peaking now while TCU peaked a little too early in the season; even if TCU plays tight in the first half, the Badgers will gradually wear the Horned Frogs down with superior depth

I buy a little bit of both arguments, so I’m not going to pretend I know any more about this game than anyone else. I’m going to go with TCU in this game because I think Wisconsin’s offense is a bit overrated because Bert Bielema is a bully that runs up the score. Before the Badgers put up the PlayStation-like scores of 83-20, 48-28, and 70-23 to close the season, I don’t remember anyone talking about how amazing the rushing attack was. Good yes, but great no. And that makes sense, because even after rushing for 1,024 team yards in their last three games, they finished only 12th in the NCAA with 247.3 yards per game. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that TCU’s rushing defense is infinitely better than anything Indiana, Michigan, or Northwestern provides. TCU pulls out the victory 24-21.

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut

My picks: Connecticut +15, Oklahoma 33 confidence points

Another motivation pick. Connecticut has heard a solid month of analysts saying they don’t deserve to be there. Oklahoma has heard the same thing. Sure, it’s a BCS game, but I don’t think that inspires the Sooners as much as it would other teams. After being in a BCS bowl six of the last eight years, I think Oklahoma will have a “been there, done that” attitude and will be a little bummed about playing in the worst of the BCS games. And as we’ve seen, the Big 12 kinda sucks.

Of course with all that said, motivation can only take a team so far against a far more talented team. Oklahoma wins, but doesn’t cover, 35-21.